Michigan State Basketball: Who ya got, Cassius Winston or Trey Burke?

Cassius Winston, Michigan State basketball (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Cassius Winston, Michigan State basketball (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

After the Big Ten Network released it’s all-decade team, Michigan State basketball’s Cassius Winston was snubbed from the first team.

Snub or no snub? That was the common reaction between Michigan and Michigan State fans this week as Cassius Winston was placed on the Big Ten Network’s all-decade second team for the conference. Was he deserving of first team? The debate is real.

The three teams have been finalized and three Spartans made the first and second teams, making up 30 percent of those squads while Tom Izzo was named coach of the decade.

Michigan State was well-represented on the teams, but did the Big Ten Network decide that three Spartans on the first team was just too much? It sure seems that way because you could make an argument for Cassius to make it over Denzel Valentine. The Draymond Green selection seemed like a lock, but switch Denzel and Cassius and no one is upset.

If there were three Spartans on the first team, who would Cassius have replaced? Some have argued that to be Evan Turner while others truly believe that Cassius was a better college player than Michigan’s Trey Burke.

Does this argument hold any weight?

The real debate: Cassius Winston or Trey Burke?

When John Beilein landed Burke, no one really knew what Michigan was getting in the point guard from Ohio. He was a three-star recruit and wasn’t exactly highly-recruited. He outperformed expectations, playing two years and making a national title appearance as a sophomore — his final season at Michigan.

Cassius was a four-star prospect who had a slow start to his career, averaging 6.7 points as a freshman. He kind of had the opposite career of Burke who left after two seasons. If Cassius’ junior and senior years replaced his freshman and sophomore campaigns, there’s no way he’s stay all four seasons, let alone three.

So how can you compare the careers fairly when one guy played four years and another played just two while seeing which player was more effective? The per 40 minutes stat is ideal here.

Burke averaged an astounding 36.1 minutes per game as a true freshman and 35.3 as a sophomore and finished his career averaging 16.9 points and 5.7 assists. He wasn’t as good of a shooter as Cassius, but he was a solid defender, averaging 1.3 steals and 0.5 blocks.

Cassius, on the other hand, averaged 14.2 points and 6.4 assists while playing under 30 minutes per game throughout his entire career. He shot the lights out, making 43 percent of his threes in four years and improved as a defender as the years progressed, but by no means was he lockdown. He averaged 0.9 steals and 0.1 blocks.

Here’s how the per-40 stats shake out to even the two up a bit:

Making up for that quiet freshman season and so-so sophomore year, Cassius’ per-40 stats were impressive, averaging 19.7 points and 8.9 assists with 3.7 rebounds from the point guard spot.

Burke was close behind at 18.9 points but wasn’t as good of a passer at 6.4 assists per game and an equal rebounder with 3.7 per game. Cassius dominated the shooting categories and had three Big Ten titles to Trey’s one and both appeared in a Final Four — Trey making it one step further, losing in the title game.

So which player would you take to lead your college team? Trey was as solid as they come and he could give you 35-40 solid minutes per game. He was an athlete and played solid defense — just ask Peyton Siva — but wasn’t nearly as deadly of a shooter. Both could drive to the hole with ease in different ways. Burke would overpower defenders with his strong frame and Cassius would get there in a crafty way.

Cassius nearly made the incredibly exclusive 2,000-1,000 club, falling just 31 points and 110 assists short. He would have hit the points if March didn’t get cancelled and he would have surpassed 900 assists — I’d guess somewhere around 925.

What Cassius lacks on defense, he makes up for as a shooter and create for himself and his teammates. He made everyone around him better. So if you’re giving the nod to Trey because of defense, you could argue that the vast shooting difference made up ground and so did Cassius’ superior passing ability.

Really, though, the debate is meaningless because both guys had fantastic careers and were arguably the Big Ten’s best two point guards over the past 10 years. If anything, both should have made the all-decade first team.

Unfortunately, Cassius was penalized because too many former Spartans were worthy of that distinction as well. He should have at least made it over Denzel.

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